Where to backpack in Anza Borrego State Park (CA)?
March 13, 2017 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Are there any areas of Anza Borrego where I might backpack this weekend, maintaining some isolation from 4WD drivers and wildflower enthusiasts?

Months ago I planned to hike into Sheep Canyon and/or Cougar Canyon this weekend with friends. I called the Visitor Center and am now concerned that it's going to be overrun with jeeps and people coming to look at the wildflowers. Trip is two nights, Friday through Sunday.

For people who know the area, do you think maintaining some isolation on this trip is possible, or is there another hike that would be better? Goals:

1. Would be great to have at least occasional access to stream water.

2. We're looking to hike in maybe 10 miles or so max, and for maximum options, let's pretend elevation gain is not an issue.

3. We're not looking to do any kind of rappelling or super duty tough work type of stuff. Just hiking in with our backpacks.

4. We can see some people but I just want to avoid constantly being on a jeep trail and hearing other campers at night.
posted by kensington314 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd start by exploring www.borregohiking.com (the map view is helpful) and look for the areas that aren't on the visitor center map, which is what 90% of tourists will be using, and with trailheads that aren't near the visitor center or the recommended wildflower areas.
posted by veery at 1:05 PM on March 13

One data point, traffic has been unbelievably bad even midweek. Yesterday, just getting into the park there was an hour jam. It took an extra hour and a half to get out at 2 pm. In town and immediate surroundings every road was lined with cars and people tramping everywhere. Once you get out of town you will be fine, though. The flowers are incredible!
posted by gryphonlover at 7:20 PM on March 13

Anza Borrego is huge, and you can camp pretty much anywhere except for the cultural preserves. So yes, you can find some isolation, especially if you're experienced desert hikers with good backcountry navigation skills. The southern end of the park will be less crowded with wildflower tourists than the northern end, so take the 8 to Ocotillo and drive up S2. You can leave your car anywhere along the dirt roads/washes off S2 and just start hiking (but please, have a plan, and make sure you don't camp in the cultural preserve around Dos Cabezas.) If you're feeling less adventurous, you can leave your cars at Bow Willow Campground and hike up the wash/canyon there. Canyons in general are good if your navigation skills aren't up to cross country wandering, because as long as you stay in between the walls, it's hard to get lost.

All of these books will have some recommended trips in Anza Borrego:
Afoot and Afield in San Diego County (there's a new edition coming out next week, I think)
Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors (that's Canyoneer as in a group that volunteers for the SD Natural History Museum, not the people who rappel down waterfalls)
Anza-Borrego Desert Region: A Guide to State Park and Adjacent Areas of the Western Colorado Desert

I wouldn't necessarily rely on streams in the desert, unless you have a recent report that it's still running. You'll probably be better off at this time of year in this particular year than usual, but so many of them are seasonal... I've filtered water at Dos Cabezas, but it was more just to say I'd done it (it was part of an outdoor skills class), and not anything I'd want to rely on. Even if you find an area with running water, please bring more than you think you'll need in your backpacks (gallon per person, per day), and make sure you leave an extra gallon or two in your car.

If you really want running water and are willing to forgo the desert, try the Laguna Mountains (in between San Diego and Anza). I like Noble Canyon, but most people do it as a point-to-point, and that requires car staging.
posted by natabat at 3:12 PM on March 16

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